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Intersectional activists are increasingly at risk online

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She is a new type of intersectional digital activist. These activists work on intersectional issues and make connections between systems of oppression, including race, gender, sexuality, and so on. And much of their activism takes place online.

Digital campaigns such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter have been successful in part because young women, Black people and LGBTQ+ are the power users of social media: they are more likely to be online and are especially adept at using social networks.

But despite successes in social justice campaigns, intersectional activists are increasingly at risk, both online and offline.

The emotional burden

Sorrenti’s online trolling and offline swatting illustrate how Intersectoral activists face an emotional burdenemotional stress that exceeds everyday norms—usually from dealing with violent attacks by online trolls.

Intersectional activists are also doxxed at higher rates, meaning: personal information is dumped online, such as their address, phone number, or place of work. Sorrenti’s slapping is a textbook example – there are ongoing emotional repercussions from her doxxing, including confrontation with transphobic police behavior such as using her dead name (the name used for the transition) and incorrect gender.

Bias in technology

A deeper problem is that the internet users are not all treated equally by the internet’s technical codes.

Research has repeatedly shown that algorithms – the computer codes that program the internet – are biased.

Algorithms and the big data that power them are often racist, sex, or transphobic.

Made Invisible

One type of algorithmic bias is shadowbanning, which happens when a platform limits the visibility of specific users without banning them outright. Activists have noted that social media content on intersectional issues is often shadowed.

For example, on May 5, 2021 – Red Dress Day in Canada – almost all posts on Instagram in connection with missing and murdered indigenous women disappeared . Instagram claimed it was a “technical issue”, while users claimed it was a shadow ban of intersectional female, Indigenous activist content. But shadowbanning is often difficult to prove.

There is also evidence that the popular video hosting platform TikTok shadowbanned intersectional LGBTQ+, disability, size activism and anti-racist content.

Algorithmic bias and shadow banning of marginalized users can make intersectional activists feel invisible, with their posts facing challenges to reach the virality critical to activist campaigns.

Response Strategies

One tactic activists have used to tackle intersectionality online is to create a “separating hashtag.” The #MeToo Movement is a powerful example of hashtag activism that drew worldwide attention to sexual harassment and abuse. However, for Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy, #MeToo didn’t feel like the right space for her as a Muslim woman. She made #MosqueMeToo to draw attention to sexual violence in the Muslim communityfocused on the intersectional context of gender, Islamophobia and racism.

Breakaway hashtags like #MosqueMeToo add intersectional dimensions to the premise of a regular hashtag, relying both on the virality of the original hashtag and challenging its limitations.

Digital Justice

Young feminist women trolled online are using the tactic of “digilent justice‘ or ‘digilantism’, which involves using digital assets to fight for justice, in this case against trolls. They learn how to hack social media platforms to reveal the identity of trolls and confront them in real life. Activists have also banned trolls from their personal social networks through “hackback” tactics, which are hacking tactics used against hackers.

In another example, feminist game developer Randi Harper was intensely tolerated by misogynists in an incident known as GamerGate. In response, Harper developed: Good Game Auto Blocker (ggautoblocker) that blocks users who follow misogynistic Twitter accounts, the digital equivalent of leaving a room when someone spews hateful speech.

Digital solidarity

Digital activists understand that social media platforms are designed for the capitalist exploitation of content and data produced by everyday users. To counter this, intersectional hacktivists (hacker activists) have designed technologies for solidarity instead of exploitation.

For example activists in Athens an app designed to share SMS costs, so that media activists within a group don’t have to foot the bill. The program itself was designed with sharing in mind, demonstrating that technologies don’t have to be exploitative.

Intersectional Activists striving to empower both givers and receivers of support, recognizing that all citizens play both roles, sometimes needing support and sometimes contributing. This is also known as mutual aid.

Digital mutual aid can take place via mentorship and skills sharing workshops who could teach new marginalized activists to code computers, promote social media posts, produce radio shows or write press releases. Workshops are taught by individuals who share some aspect of their identity with participants to create a safer space through a shared experience of lived oppression.

Digital solidarity and mutual aid are important strategies of support and care that can work to counteract the negative emotional burden of being trolled, doxxed, shadowbanned or subjected to algorithmic bias.

More work to do

In addition to intersectional digital activism, more work needs to be done by the tech industry, police forces and wider social movements to eliminate the colonialism, racism, sexism and transphobia of online interactions and the devastating offline effects they can have in people’s daily lives. .

This work is important for a well-functioning, inclusive and diverse democracy, as it aims to ensure that online participation is equally and securely available to all citizens.

Sandra Jeppesen is a professor of media, film and communication at Lakehead University.

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